Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan

Published November 23rd, 2015

Thanksgiving Day is one of the most popular holidays in America that comes in the last week of November each year. Families travel all across the country to be with their loved ones and enjoy an epic feast. But do other countries celebrate this holiday?

Not exactly, though many other countries have some kind of festival to celebrate the fall harvest each year. Japan is no different with Labor Thanksgiving Day. It is sort of a blend between American Labor Day and the traditional Thanksgiving Day to give thanks for things we are grateful for. Labor Thanksgiving Day (勤労感謝の日, Kinrō Kansha no Hi) is celebrated annually on November 23rd and is actually the modern name for an ancient harvest festival known as 新嘗祭 (Niiname-sai or also Shinjō-sai). The name of this festival was changed by GHQ (General Headquarters) that occupied Japan after World War II. But the original roots of this festival go as far back at 660 B.C.! The festival began as a way to celebrate the hard work of the year and the Emperor would dedicate the harvest to the (kami, spirits).

A Traditional Lego FeastA Traditional Lego Feast

Nowadays, the November holiday looks a little bit different. After World War II, workers rights and human rights were greatly expanded under Japan’s post-war Constitution. The day officially became a holiday in 1948. But rather than be about giving thanks for all the wonderful blessings in your life, or for the great harvest season, it is about giving thanks to those who work hard, such as police officers and firefighters, and even your parents. In this way it much more closely resembles Labor Day in America. School children will often make thank you cards and gifts to honor those who do such important jobs like police officers who work in 交番 (kōban), or small, local police boxes around the country.

The sad reality of Labor Thanksgiving Day is that it isn’t really celebrated around the country at all. Most people do not have the day off work (though government offices are closed), there is no large feast, no time with family, and no giant parade with huge floating animals. There may be some small festivals, but mostly it just isn’t that big a deal.

Thanksgiving in JapanJapanksgiving Feast

If you’re an American or Canadian in Japan and you’re really missing eating turkey with your whole family, there are some places you can find that will make a traditional feast. Obviously this developed to answer a need from the growing expat community who just can’t seem to live without their November turkey and cranberry sauce. Many international hotels will offer Thanksgiving Day feasts, though these will usually happen on the American Thanksgiving Thursday and NOT on the Japanese holiday, which is ALWAYS on the 23rd, no matter what day of the week it is. The Japan Times has even published a list to help you find that perfect Thanksgiving dinner in Tokyo, which you can check out here. Have you found any ways to celebrate American Thanksgiving in Japan? Tell us about it!